In small Skokie storefront, Libertad goes big on nuevo Latino cuisine
BY THOMAS WITOM Dining February 29, 2012 6:04PM
The skirt steak gets an added flavor boost from chimichurri sauce and chipotle-goat cheese. It is topped with a bevy of crisp, super-thin yucca fries. | JOHN J. KIM ~ sun-times
7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie
(847) 674-8100; liber tad7931.com
Prices: Tapas-style shareable dishes: seafood, $11-$16; meat/poultry, $9-$16; vegetarian, $7-$13; desserts, $7.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 5 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday; 5-9 p.m. Sunday.
Try: Remolacha (roasted beet, watercress salad), pork belly, grilled skirt steak; triple chocolate cake.
Wheels: Street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Tips: Reservations recommended. Sunday brunch. Full bar with a diverse selection of craft beers and specialty cocktails. Seasonally changing menu. Lunch is currently hibernating until spring.
In a bite: Recently minted Libertad offers inspired nuevo Latino tapas at reasonable prices in a comfortable environment.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor
Attention, grazers: Chances are you may not have discovered Libertad, a small storefront restaurant in downtown Skokie specializing in nuevo Latino cuisine. But word on this classy seven-month-old eatery owned and operated by Marcos Rivera is getting out.
Reservations are accepted and advisable, considering that the popular gathering place probably seats no more than 40.
Its dishes are inspired by restaurants in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, and Executive Chef Armando Gonzalez’s menu offers a take on tapas-style dining. Portions for most items fall somewhere between appetizers and full-fledged entrees, and a pair of diners are likely to find themselves sharing three or four dishes.
The prices are right, too, with meat and fish plates going for $9 to $16 and vegetarian choices $7 to $13.
On one Sunday evening, we arrived shortly after Libertad opened and it was already half-filled. A complimentary demitasse of chili-accented carrot soup served as an amuse bouche, a perfect antidote to winter’s sting.
A shared remolacha salad united earthy roasted beets, delicate watercress, buttery shaved manchego cheese and mandarin orange slices dressed in a delicious sherry-truffle vinaigrette — a harmonious symphony of tastes and textures.
The flavor fest continued without a letdown as the meal progressed to the main courses. Any entree would have done the trick for us, from pomegranate-ancho glazed shrimp to mussels steamed in coconut-saffron broth and served with leeks, potatoes and chorizo to braised duck with celery root puree and rum-caramelized pineapple.
Libertad’s open kitchen also prepares barbecued chicken with queso fresco, salsa and creme fraiche as well as an acorn squash-wild mushroom risotto and chipotle hummus. Diners at a nearby table were busy making short shrift of pastel de cangrejo, pan-seared lump crab cake with jalapeno aioli and cucumber-avocado relish.
Our choices, the pork belly and asada (skirt steak), both were winners. The former, a delicious, rich, tender piece of meat prepared with a hint of truffle oil, came plated atop white beans and Swiss chard. My medium-rare steak picked up added flavor from chimichurri sauce along with chipotle-goat cheese. It rested on perfectly ripe tomato slices, while the meat itself was artfully sprinkled with crisp, super-thin yucca fries.
Triple chocolate cake, one of three listed desserts, took our favorite food group to a new level of intensity. The warm cake had a gooey chocolate center and it contrasted nicely to the scoop of homemade, slightly peppery milk chocolate mole ice cream that rested in a small pool of white chocolate sauce. Pumpkin cheese cake and apple crisp, also made on the premises, rounded out dessert options.
The bar carries an arsenal of tequilas, an eclectic mix of wines ($6-$10 a glass) and fixings for specialty cocktails as well as a dozen hard-to-find craft beers. Pranqster, a refreshing Belgian-style golden ale from a California producer, did not disappoint.
Libertad presents itself well, with attractive rustic wood floors, tables and banquettes, and colorful bas relief artwork on the walls. As its name implies, it’s a free-and-easy place to eat, drink and relax. And the service is tip-top.
Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.